study says we start losing friends after 25

A team of researchers have identified the exact age at which we start losing touch with people — and why doing so isn't necessarily a bad thing.

by Hannah Ongley
23 May 2016, 8:10pm

photography petra collins for me and you

With the constant inundation of Instagram notifications and Facebook birthday reminders, it feels like our friendship circles are becoming increasingly expansive and engulfing. Over IRL, the opposite is true — at least after the age of 25. A study has now identified this as the exact age at which these social circles start to shrink and we start losing touch with a whole lot of people. For men, the post-25 drop in friend count is even more rapid.

Of course, it's practically impossible to quantify friendship in the age of social media. So researchers at  Finland's Aalto University School of Science and Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology came to their findings by looking solely at phone calls. Specifically, they analyzed the phone records of a European mobile operator with 3.2 million customers for whom age and gender data was available. What they found was that 25-year-olds were by far the most active phone users: men of this age were calling around 19 people a month, while women were calling around 17.5. After 25, the numbers started to decline. By 39, the average was 12 and 15 respectively. 

"The greater social promiscuity of younger individuals could be interpreted as a phase of social sampling," says the team. "Individuals explore the range of opportunities (both for friendships and for reproductive partners) available to them before finally settling down with those considered optimal or most valuable." They put the gender switch down, naturally, to sex. Apparently younger guys are calling more people in a quest for sexual relationships. 

Clearly there are limitations to this study — for starters, it was carried out in 2007. An increasing number of friendships do not involve regular phone calls, and it's arguable that some forms of online communication are replicating the intimacy of voice calls enough to make the latter less necessary. Then there are the technical hitches — calling Time Warner Cable 15 times a month hardly amounts to a friendship. Still, the researchers say their findings are consistent with previous studies. And regardless, they seems to confirm what we already knew: having lots of friends is far less important than having close friends. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Petra Collins for Me and You